Thursday, October 6, 2011

Are Pets Worth It?

Are Pets Worth it?
Author, Bob McMillan
What’s the deal with dogs?
They’re those shaggy things that loiter around the house, right? They collect fleas.
They shed. You have to watch where you step in the yard with a dog around. They
loll around on your furniture and eat your running shoes. They drool.

Do them a favor and take them for a walk and, unless you’ve spent countless hours
training them, they’ll wrap you around a lightpole or drag you through the
boxwoods chasing cats or squirrels. They knock you down when you come home or
jingle the car keys. They suffer mysterious hearing losses when you say,
“Down,” but whisper the word “food” in the next room and bam, they’re
right at your feet, grinning.

You bath them, groom them, pony up for vet bills and food and treats. If you have
more than one, you become a pro at breaking up spats. Face it, having a dog
means countless hours of work, sweat and money.

Is it really worth all this?

The owners of more than 74 million dogs in America say yes.

That’s because they’re not a burden — they’re our friends. Of all the animals, dogs
understand us best, and we have a pretty good idea what’s going on inside their
furry skulls, too. We relate. It’s a relationship that’s enriched us both for
at least 15,000 years.

The archaeological record is clear. As soon as man settled into farming villages
(and likely for thousands of years before) canines were by his side. Through
history they’ve hunted and retrieved for us, they’ve herded our livestock,
they’ve guarded our wickiups, huts and homes. They’ve gone to war with us.

They’ve been such a part of our culture that Hollywood
made them stars: Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, 101 Dalmatians. The comedian W.C. fields
refused to work with kids or dogs because they stole his scenes.

Fast-foward to 2009. Our lives are hectic, our neighborhoods are crowded, it’s a different world and a different time than when Timmy and Lassie roamed the old family farm. Dog bites and raids on dog-fights and puppy mills are in the news, along
with animal shelters struggling to stay open because of a tide of cast-off

Now, we still love our dogs and they still work for us. The sniff out drugs and
bombs, they find the lost. Just petting a dog is therapeutic, health
researchers say, and they’re used in hospitals and nursing homes. Some can
sniff out cancer cells.

But today, most of us have dogs not because of the work they do, but because our
lives feel more complete with a shaggy smile in it. Many of us pamper our furry
pals. Americans spent $38 billion last year on their pets, and only about 40%
of that on food. There’s also pet beds, grooming aids, rain coats, car seats
and an array of bones, toys and treats.

We’re pretty smitten, huh. It’s been a good run so far.

But life with dogs in 2009 is increasingly complicated, even in once-rural Putnam County. More of us are wanting to do more with our dogs with less time and less space.
The more we learn about these fascinating creatures, the more we realize what
they’re capable of — and that dog ownership is a major responsibility.

We now know that dogs are social animals. Leaving them tied to a post in the yard
all their lives or stuck in a pen makes them prisoners, not companions. They
thrive on being close to us. And we thrive too.

We know we have to socialize our furry friends, safely expose them to all kinds of
people and surprises so they’ll behave when they go with us. We have to train
them, teach them the rules. And we want to do it in a way so we’re both still

Keeping them up to date on their shots isn’t enough. With the country overrun with strays, spaying and neutering is becoming the norm. With pet food poisonings in the
recent headlines, we’re becoming more careful what we feed them and many of us
are learning to be animal nutrionists as well as the Hurler of The Frisbee.

The more we learn about dogs, the more fascinating Man’s Best Friend becomes.

Bob McMillan is an editor and columnist with the
Cookeville Herald-Citizen newspaper and lives on a mountain with several giant hounds and wary cats.
This column was originally printed in the Herald-Citizen
in Cookeville, Tennessee.
Please visit for more information on the
newspaper. We thank the Herald-Citizen
staff for allowing FFBF to re-print this piece.

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